A Modest Proposal

21 Sep

Dear Opponents of the Ground Zero Mosque,

Even in sleepy Buffalo, we keep up on national events. We’ve been following the fight against Park 51, the new Islamic Community Center a couple blocks from the World Trade Center, and I have to say we’re disappointed.

First, that whole Islamophobia thing is undeserved and unbecoming. Not only is this America, but you’re New York City, historic home and welcomer of immigrants. Religious groups have the right to build centers of worship on private land in this country. That’s the way it should be. Yes, we get the whole sacred site issue. But fear-mongering and hatred are never right, and you’re better than that.

But secondly, and most importantly, we’re disappointed because you’re so bad at stopping this development. Eminent domain and politically inspired fundraising investigations (when Park51 has only raised $10,000, after all) are ham-handed and beneath you. Far be it for us to opine, but we’ve mastered the art of development impediment in Buffalo, and trample on private property rights for reasons far more shallow than a national tragedy. We have some tips for you – the sledgehammer you are using is not nearly passive aggressive enough to be successful.

Remember, in 2010, fear is bigotry, and pleas for temperance, consideration, and understanding are invalid. But architectural outrage and offense over foundations unbuilt to the curb is the highest form of political discourse.

So try this instead. You don’t have to do them in this order, but we’ve found these usually work:

Add the Burlington Coat factory to the National Register of Historic Places: But it’s just a Burlington Coat Factory, you say? That building was built in the 1850’s. We add everything from then to the register. We call it “pre-Civil War” or “Canal-era.” I’m sure you can come up with a name. And don’t worry about the local Landmark Preservation Commission voting not to protect it. The State of New York makes the call on NRHP packages, and they’ll approve anything. You should see the stuff in Buffalo that makes the list. This isn’t all Teddy Roosevelt’s Inauguration site, let me tell you.

Say the Park51 mosque does not follow an urban development plan: We have tons of plans in Buffalo, and don’t follow any of them. I’m sure you can dust off a Port Authority plan from the 1980’s that says that block should be [insert restrictive use here], and a community center is not in keeping with the intended highest and best use blah blah blah. You get the idea.

Demand a Community Benefits Agreement: Normally these are done when there is a significant outlay of public money. But considering this center will be used to foster inter-faith dialogue and heal the wounds of 9/11, I’m sure you can say such a public high profile building requires that the community see some tangible financial benefit. LEED certification, all union workers, and a living wage for all employees is a good place to start. I’m sure when the building cost balloons to $30 million, and a living wage for the janitors living in Lower Manhattan is found to be north of $100K a year, the Park51 backers will have second thoughts.

Complain about traffic: This one may be tougher for you, since no one in their right mind drives in that neighborhood anyway. But require a traffic study, and demand the Park51 owners show that bringing 1000 people to the center will not increase traffic anywhere in a three block radius. Impossible, you say? That’s the point. Which reminds us . . .

Gripe about parking: If there is no parking, demand it. If there is parking, decry it. They can’t win. We love this one.

Appeal to the Zoning Board: But its already within zoning guidelines? Demand special conditions. Our zoning board specifies the hours of operation of businesses before granting permission. I’m sensing midnight to 5am. See: Traffic, above.

Ask the Lenape Indian Tribe to declare that address as sovereign land: No, I’m not kidding. Don’t worry, they can just claim that one spot, not the whole island again. I know, right? Can you believe it? Yeah, really. I know, I get it. Hmmmm.

But seriously, you should try it.

Say the design sucks: It is very important during this portion of the process that you say you fully support Park51, you just don’t want to throw up every time you look at the building.  I mean, look at that. You have a lot of potential here. The modern nature of the design clearly does not fit into the historic character of the surrounding neighborhood. The opaque outer skin, with Middle-Eastern inspired grill work underneath, is a mismatch of styles that completely fails to inspire. The historic structures to either side are painted cream, not grey, as shown in the artist’s rendering – it would be obvious how jarringly the colors clash if the correct hues were used. The unformly horizontal shape is lifeless, and reminds me more of the monolith from 2001 than a center for learning and healing. And we haven’t even yet mentioned how this construction does not comply with the MillionTreesNYC initiative. I’m sure when you add the required greenery in front (on the sidewalk only – still build to the curb, of course), the entire front facade will have to be rethought. If we can do it in Buffalo for unglazed exterior finishes, you can do it for this abomination.

When in doubt, sue: Just pick one of the issues above, and seek an injunction. Cases need not have merit to succeed at this tactic – investors will often pull out just because the suit is filed in the first place. A couple years of property taxes paid by stymied developers, while the site remains on the tax rolls, should help do the trick. 

Some combination of those methods have proven successful here for the last fifty years. If we think of any more, we’ll be sure to drop a line. Good Luck!

Yours truly, from Canada,

The City of No Illusions

4 Responses to “A Modest Proposal”

  1. Alan Bedenko September 21, 2010 at 6:13 am #

    Clever and painfully familiar.  But NYC long ago codified its professional plaintiff/obstructionist mindset, and Park51 is (1) built to the curb; and (2) already past the landmarks board. 

  2. Brian Castner September 21, 2010 at 7:14 am #

    Which is my point! Think of all the potential obstructionist strategies yet untried.

  3. JSmith September 21, 2010 at 7:52 am #

    The living wage in NYC is defined by current law as $11.50/hour with no benefits. If someone works 40 hours a week, every week, with a two-week *unpaid* vacation, that’s $23,000, not $100,000. I would not want to have to try to support my family on $23K/year (in Buffalo, let alone Manhattan). Would you?

    Satire works much better when you’re satirizing real things instead of straw men.

  4. ethan September 21, 2010 at 9:20 am #

    Ha ha ha; that’s funny.

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